Date: November 8, 2012
The Honorable Thomas R. Bice
Superintendent of Education
50 North Ripley Street
P.O. Box 302101
Montgomery, Alabama 36104
Dear Superintendent Bice:
Thank you for submitting Alabama’s request for ESEA flexibility. We appreciate the hard work required to transition to college- and career-ready standards and assessments; develop a system of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support; and evaluate and support teacher and leader effectiveness. The U.S. Department of Education (Department) is encouraged that Alabama and many other States are designing rigorous plans to increase the quality of instruction and improve student academic achievement.
Alabama’s request was reviewed by a panel of six peer reviewers during the week of October 1, 2012. During the review, the peers considered each component of Alabama’s request and provided comments in the form of Peer Panel Notes that the Secretary will use to inform any revisions to your request that may be needed to meet the principles of ESEA flexibility. The Peer Panel Notes, a copy of which is enclosed with this letter, also provide feedback on the strengths of Alabama’s request and areas that would benefit from further development. The Department’s ESEA flexibility team has also carefully reviewed Alabama’s request, taking into account the Peer Panel Notes, to determine consistency with the ESEA flexibility principles.
The peers noted, and the Department’s ESEA flexibility team agrees, that Alabama’s request was particularly strong in establishing and convening task forces to inform the State’s education reform agenda, incorporating the State’s 11 Regional Inservice Centers to build State and district capacity to implement the new standards fully and effectively in all classrooms across the State, and incorporating into its intervention structures the use of an online tool for district and school improvement planning.
At the same time, based on the peer reviewers’ comments and our review of the materials Alabama has provided to date, we have identified certain components of your request that need further clarification, additional development, or revision. In particular, concerns were identified with respect to the following:
- Completion and implementation of the State’s new accountability system in a way that ensures rigor and technical soundness and on a timeline that will allow it to use the system as described in the request for flexibility;
- Development and implementation of the grades 3-7 general assessments and alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards used to meet the requirements of high-quality assessments as defined in ESEA flexibility; and
- Development and implementation of teacher and principal support and evaluation guidelines consistent with the requirements of ESEA flexibility.
The enclosed list provides details regarding these concerns, as well as other key issues raised in the review of Alabama’s request, that must be addressed before the Secretary can approve your request for ESEA flexibility. We encourage Alabama to consider all of the peers’ comments and technical assistance suggestions in making revisions to its request, but we encourage you to focus primarily on addressing the concerns identified on the enclosed list.
Although the Peer Panel Notes for Alabama provide information specific to your request, Alabama also may benefit from comments and technical assistance suggestions made by other peer panels regarding issues common to multiple State educational agencies’ (SEA) requests. For this reason, Department staff will reach out to Alabama to provide relevant technical assistance suggestions and other considerations that may be useful as you revise and refine your request.
We remain committed to working with Alabama to meet the principles of ESEA flexibility and improve outcomes for all students. We stand ready to work with Alabama as quickly as possible. In order to ensure prompt consideration of revisions or additional materials, we are asking SEAs to submit those materials by November 30, 2012. Department staff will be in touch to set up a call as early as this week to discuss the timeline and process for providing revisions or materials.
You and your team deserve great credit for your efforts thus far, and I am confident that the Department’s ESEA flexibility team will work with your staff to address outstanding concerns. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact Victoria Hammer at 202-260-1438. Thank you for your continued commitment to all of Alabama’s children.
Deborah S. Delisle
cc: Melinda Maddox, Assistant State Superintendent of Research, Information, and Data Service